Our Man In Canada
May 13th, 2002

The Downtown Fly Fisher
Calgary, Part 2
Typical Bow Brown

By Bruce Masterman

A virtual smorgasbord of fly fishing opportunities awaits along the Eastern Slopes southwest of the city. Heading south on Secondary 940 - a road Alberta author Barry Mitchell dubbed Alberta's Trout Highway in his recent book - you could fish a lifetime without doing justice to Cataract Creek (brookies and rainbows), Willow Creek (browns and brookies), Livingston River (cutthroats and bull trout), Oldman River (rainbows, bulls and cutts), Racehorse Creek (cutts), and Dutch Creek (cutts). In the southwestern corner of the province, cutthroats and rainbows abound in the Crowsnest and Castle rivers.

If fly fishing for northern pike is more your cup of tea, you should head east and southeast of Calgary. Several irrigation reserviors offer good pike fishing, including Chestermere Lake, Travers Reservoir and Badger Lake. Glenmore Reservoir in Calgary also offers good pike fishing. Even the Bow has a few. I once caught a 24-inch pike in the Bow during an early-morning float with legendary fly fishing writer John Gierach. He looked back at the streamer hooked pike, disdainfully muttered "Nice pike" and resumed fishing with a disgusted look on his face. For pike, you should bring a good selection of large rabbit-fur streamers, such as the Deceiver and Bunny Bug. Big Woolly Buggers also work. You might want to check first with your doctor, to make sure your heart can take it.

Main Attractions: The Bow

These rivers originate in the Rocky Mountains and flow eastward, finally meeting more than 100 kilometers later at their confluence near downtown Calgary, where Fort Calgary was established in 1875.

The part of the Bow that most interests fly fishers can be split into three distinct stretches: the upper river that begins in Banff National Park and tumbles eastward in a rollicking series of rapids, pools, and long deep runs; the city section, a shallower reach blessed with riffles, pocket water, and lively runs; and the most popular reach, 55 kilometers of trout-rich classic fly-fishing water downstream of Calgary to the Carseland Wier. Although there's some good fishing for several kilometers downstream of Carseland, public access is limited because much of it runs through a Native Reserve. Below that, the Bow turns into a warmwater fishery, with northern pike, walleye and burbot more common than trout.

Visiting anglers never cease to be impressed by Bow River rainbows, often likening them to West Coast steelhead. They're powerful, deep-bodied and extremely tenacious when hooked. Some fly fishers call them silver bullets. The brown trout as just as tough, with hooked jaws and thick, distinctive yellow bodies. Neither species are pushovers, especially the big tackle-busters. When hooked, larger browns and rainbows have a tendency to head straight for the middle or far side of the river. Meanwhile, you're nervously contemplating your fly line zipping off your reel and wondering how much back you have on, and whether the connecting knot is good. It's also difficult not to be impressed by the sheer numbers of trout. The stretch between Calgary and Carseland boasts up to 2,000 rainbows and browns per 1.6 kilometer.

Current Issue Canadian Fly Fisher

The Bow is a big river, more than 75 meters across in places. As such, many first-time visitors are inexperienced fly fishers find it intimidating and frustrating. After all, with so much water to fish, it can be difficult to know where to start. The best approach is to view the river in smaller parts, rather than as one massive entity. Look at it as you would a smaller river, creek or stream. Identify and concentrate on potential trout-holding areas: the seam between fast and slow-moving waters, undercut banks, natural pockets and indentations along the banks, deep runs and shallow riffles, grass-lined banks, sunken or overhanging trees, and other promising looking spots. Rather than spending a lot of time trying to cast in mid-river, focus on water closer to shore, where most of the trout hang out waiting for insects and other good to drift by. Bow River dry-fly fanatics have learned to be patient, looking before they cast, or wading to ensure they don't spook a monster methodically sipping mayflies in 12 inches of water tight against the bank. Random dry fly casting can be effective, but a more selective approach is almost always better. You'll need to be patient - and prepared to chance flies and techniques on a regular basis until you hit the right one.

Continued Next Time!

Credits: This article is from the Canadian Fly Fisher magazine. We appreciate use permission!

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